With the names of the candidates for the 28 Lok Sabha seats all but finalised, Karnataka’s three main parties: Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Congress, and JanAta Dal-Secular have decided to bank on nepotism and caste equations to woo voters. Predictably, issues of economic and social development have taken a back seat.

While the BJP is banking on its main supporters, the Lingayat voters, the Opposition Congress is relying on the Other Backward Castes (OBCs), Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST), Muslims, Christians and the Vokkaligas.

The JD-S, which is an ally of the BJP, makes no bones about the fact that its agenda is to promote former Prime Minister Deve Gowda’s family interests even as it seeks to consolidate its hold over the Vokkaligas. The Gowda family also believes that the minorities will continue to support JD-S, despite the fact that the party has chosen to join hands with the BJP.

Admittedly, the Dalits, OBCs, and STs in addition to the minorities, exercise considerable clout when it comes to the polls. These are the sections that the Congress is confident of wooing.

Available information indicates that so far, the BJP has fielded nine Lingayats, four Vokkaligas, three Brahmins and OBCs each ,for the Parliamentary polls. For the SC reserved constituencies, it has nominated one Banjara and a Chavadi candidate each, while the rest is accounted for by the Banjaras and Madigas.

The Congress’ list includes seven Vokkaligas, five Lingayats and six OBCs in addition to a Muslim candidate.

The JD-S, however, has preferred to include former Prime Minister Deve Gowda’s son in law, Dr C. Manjunath from Bengaluru Rural, grandson, Prajwal Revanna from Hassan.

Former Chief Minister and Gowda’s younger son H. D. Kumaraswamy, is all set to fight from Mandya. Till the time of writing, the JD-S had not finalised its candidate for Kolar, one of the three seats which the BJP has left for it.

It is worthwhile to note that Dr. Manjunath, a renowned cardiologist, is fighting on a BJP ticket. This arrangement was made in the light of the fact that the BJP could allocate only three out of 28 seats to its newfound ally for the Lok Sabha polls.

The possibility of the doctor becoming the Union Health Minister, in the event the BJP romps home in the elections, is also not ruled out, according to sources close to the JD-S.

While the OBCs and SCs are spread across the state, their large presence in Kalyana Karnataka, better known as the Hyderabad-Karnataka region, could play a major role in the success or failure of the Congress in these elections.

Chief Minister Siddaramaiah led the Congress past the winning post banking on these votes in 2013 and 2023. The win was spearheaded by the Kurubas from his community.

Of course, following the alienation of the Lingayat community by the BJP on the eve of the 2023 Assembly polls, a large number of voters from this section, along with the Vokkaligas, chose to go with the Congress.

Siddaramaiah was able to mobilise support from the AHINDA segment (a local acronym for minorities, backwards and the downtrodden).

In addition, the current deputy CM D. K. Shivakumar, managed to get the backing of his Vokkaliga community in the Mysuru belt. This led to a major polarisation of votes, much to the detriment of the BJP in 2023.

The Congress, accordingly, proposes to replicate its Assembly experience in the 2024 Parliamentary polls while banking on the implementation of its five guarantees comprising, free power and free bus rides to women, coupled with allowance to the unemployed youth, among others.

The party has also nominated several relatives of its senior leaders as its candidates for the 2024 polls. According to Congress sources, it was largely forced to do so as most of the senior ministers in Siddaramaiah’s cabinet refused to contest. The BJP, of course, claimed that “the Congress ministers are scared of losing the polls.”

In this election, however, the BJP is determined to get its Lingayat support thanks to its success in wooing back Jagdish Shettar, its former CM and a prominent leader from the community.

Just before the 2023 Assembly polls, Shettar had deserted the BJP to join the Congress, after he was not given a ticket by his parent party. Following his departure, a huge section of the Lingayat voters also ditched the BJP, leading to the Congress winning by a big margin.

The saffron party hopes to reverse the trend this time, evidenced by its decision to put up Shettar from Belagavi. Yet another former CM Basavaraj Bommai, also a Lingayat, will contest from Haveri.

Besides Shettar’s return, the BJP is banking on the support of the Gowda family and its clout with the Vokkaligas. While it fared poorly in the 2023 elections, at least in the Vokkaliga dominated Mysuru belt, this time the BJP is confident of reaping a rich dividend, thanks to the alliance with the Gowda family’s JD-S.

This, notwithstanding the fact that the BJP has been riven with factionalism with the candidates who failed to get nomination, rising in revolt. A case in point being former Deputy CM, K. Eashwarappa.

Eashwarappa is determined to contest as an Independent against B. Y. Raghavendra, from the Shimoga constituency. Raghavendra is former CM and BJP strongman B. S. Yeddiyurappa’s son.

Eashwarappa is annoyed that his son Kantesh was denied a ticket this time. The BJP has been trying its best to convince the old timer against spoiling its show.

Till the time of writing, the former Dy. CM has ignored all overtures. He seems determined to defy the parent party while blaming Yeddiyurappa for denying Kantesh the “much desired ticket.”

In fact, he went public to charge the BJP strongman with promoting his own family instead. Raghvendra is the sitting MP from Shimoga while his brother, B. Vijayendra, is the state unit president of the BJP.

Meanwhile, CM Siddaramaiah, albeit unwittingly, echoed the sentiments of the Opposition parties when he defended the prevailing nepotism, in the Congress, in particular.

According to him, “giving tickets to children and relatives of ministers and leaders was not dynastic politics.” He told newsmen recently that” it only acknowledges the recommendations of voters.”

For instance, while announcing its partial list of candidates on March 21, the Congress party fielded the son-in- law of Malikarjun Kharge, AICC chief, and the children of five ministers in the Siddaramaiah cabinet.

The CM was responding to queries about how ten family members and relatives of state ministers were given tickets for the Lok Sabha polls. These include Kharge's son-in-law, Radhakrishna Doddamani who will fight from Kalaburgi or Gulbarga, PWD Minister Satish Jarkiholi's daughter Priyanka Jarkiholi (Chikkodi), and Transport Minister Ramalinga Reddy’s daughter Sowmya.

Similarly, former MP Rahman Khan's son, Mansoor Ali Khan will contest from Bengaluru Central. Added to that, state minister S. S. Malikarjun’s wife, Prabha, will contest from Davengere.

While the JD-S makes no excuses for fielding Gowda’s family members, the BJP remains unfazed regarding the complaints against Yeddiyurappa made by its disgruntled leaders. The BJP is confident of retaining if not improving on the 25 seats that it bagged in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls while hoping that the JDS will help it in improving its tally further.